PHOENIX — In the latest twist to Arizona State-Arizona rivalry, a Sun Devil just might be taking a Wildcat’s place with the Phoenix Suns this season.
With big man Channing Frye expected to miss the upcoming season after being diagnosed with an enlarged heart, the Suns on Monday added former ASU standout Ike Diogu to their training camp roster.
Diogu and a few other forward/center types will compete to help fill the void created by Frye’s absence. After competing for Nigeria in the 2012 Olympics in London, Diogu sought an opportunity to practice with fellow NBA players as he awaited his next opportunity. He still keeps a part-time residence in the Valley, and he heard Suns players were working out at US Airways Center.
“Just playing open gym here, I think I surprised a lot of people,” Diogu said Monday at Suns media day.
Surprise or not, Diogu made an impression on Suns general manager Lance Blanks, who extended an invite to training camp, which starts Tuesday in San Diego. Diogu accepted and hopes he can do enough in the five-day training camp to stick with the Suns.
“I think I need to just come out and play the way I played when (Blanks) and the coaching staff were here (for informal workouts),” Diogu said. “Just come out and be that missing link that they need.”
The upcoming season would be Diogu’s eighth in the NBA. He played in two games last season with the San Antonio Spurs following stints with the Los Angeles Clippers (2010-11), Sacramento Kings (2008-09), Indiana Pacers (2006-08) and Golden State Warriors (2005-07).
With the Suns, Diogu will try to build on momentum gained in a strong Olympic showing. Diogu averaged 14.8 points and 9.0 rebounds in London and felt the experience was a big step for Nigerian basketball.
“Being able to represent Nigeria and making history for the country was unbelievable,” Diogu said. “Unfortunately we didn’t have the best showing, but still, to accomplish what we accomplished and face all the struggles we faced — which is something nobody will ever find out about — it was unbelievable. Nobody can take anything away from us for what we accomplished for Nigeria.”
Diogu also has stayed close to the ASU program, where he starred from 2002-05. After averaging 21.4 points and 8.8 rebounds and earning Pac-10 Player of the Year honors in 2005, Diogu was drafted ninth overall by the Warriors, one spot behind Frye. Diogu said he occasionally plays pickup basketball at ASU’s Weatherup Center and did so recently with fellow alumnus James Harden.
While it remains to be seen if Diogu ends up being the player the Suns need to round out their roster, he believes Phoenix represents the next chapter of his basketball career.
“After the success that I had this summer, I really just want to carry it over and show people that I’m a legitimate player in this league,” Diogu said. “I haven’t really gotten the best opportunities since I came into the league, but the success that I had this summer, which opened a lot of eyes, I just want to build on that and have a career year this year.”